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Posts tagged with: writing life

It’s Easy to Give Advice

So the other day after killing myself in Zumba class, I headed toward the exit of my gym. To the left of me is an area where several older people gather to have coffee and donuts (I know!) after they work out. It’s a busy area and they never fail to make me smile. Well, this particular day as I ditched my empty water bottle, I heard several older men complaining about the way other people let their kids mooch off them. It was the whole virtuous “Teach a man to fish” conversation and they were quite spirited about it.

And all I could think was “Yeah, but you’re not living it. You’re sitting here, popping donuts, spouting off about how you would NEVER let your kid mooch off you. Easier said than done.”

I left and as I walked to the car, my mind flipped to how much advice we get as parents – don’t let them have a bottle past a year old, no passies past age 2, start them on vegetables first….yada, yada, yada. And it follows a parent all the way until….well, until a parent is hobbling around the track and wolfing donuts at 77. Everyone seems to know best.

Right?

Advice. Sigh. It’s everywhere in the writing world, too. From the time you join an RWA chapter or some other writing group, well-intentioned people are lined up to give you gentle (or sometimes bone-jarring) advice on what you should do. Whether it’s “stop using so many ellipses” (yeah, I know I use a lot of ‘em) to where you should advertise your book for sale, someone somewhere is going to make you feel like you’re doing it all wrong. And you will believe them, the same way I believe all those experts in parenting magazines when they said to give a child choices to give him a sense of independence (Thank you Parents magazine for EVERY SINGLE fight I have with my youngest over what he wears each day) or those well-meaning moms who made me feel like I was the worst mom in the world for not packing organic lunches, monogramming their shortalls, and skipping the occasional room mom party. We all get sucked into believing other people know what is best for our story, the submission process, and promotions.

And that’s not to say we all don’t need some advice sometimes. Because sometimes good advice does make the difference to a plot or our sales. I’m not saying don’t listen to others, but instead I’m asking you to always listen to yourself. You usually know what is needed for the story. Know why? Cause it’s your story. Yours. And there is some satisfaction in knowing that you control that aspect of your writing life. You are the creator of your story. Bottom line.

This is something I must keep in mind with my new critique group. In my local RWA chapter, I felt there was a need for some mentoring and critiquing because so many of our members were new writers. When I first joined NOLA STARS, I had some very generous ladies who met with me once a week to read my work and show me how to be a better writer. Yes, I was easily influenced because I wanted to get better and please these more experienced writers, but at the same time, I was very certain to hold on to my vision. Some writers aren’t good at digging in their heels and that’s something I encourage my new critique group to do – hold on to your story.

So today, dear friends, I’m reminding you that advice abounds everywhere, but it’s easy to give advice when you are sitting in a different chair (eating donuts). Every author is different, every situation is different. Hold on to your story. It’s yours. It’s you. And it can’t be anybody else’s.

So today let’s talk about advice – have you ever received any from someone who just didn’t get it? Have you received advice that’s made a big difference in your career?

Give Me Just One Reason

Ah, as I pen this post I’m surrounded by the sights, smells and sounds of the holiday season.

Several weeks ago my husband and I climbed into the attic and trudged down with a bajillion boxes of Christmas decorations. There were wreaths, two trees, outside lights, centerpieces, stockings and fancy trappings of a holiday that seems to expand more and more each year. I dutifully fluffed branches, refastened glittering bows and searched for those darn ornament hooks (where DO those suckers disappear to every year?) And after a day and a half -and several trips to Lowes – I had festive, warm holiday décor from the guest bath to the front door. Christmas candles flickered almost in tune with the music streaming into the house via satellite radio. All was perfect, all was bright.

Except I felt nothing warm and festive.

In fact I actually had the thought (a very grinchy thought) that I wish Christmas wouldn’t come at all this year.

Yeah. First time EVER in my life I wished Christmas would have blown past without even honking its horn or tossing out a single gift.

Bah, humbug couldn’t touch what I felt. I wasn’t a Scrooge or a Grinch…or was I? I weathered the office party thrown at our house, bought all the Christmas gifts and wrapped them and still…nothing. I made gingerbread houses with the kids and faked the Christmas spirit the entire time, humming along to Bing and saying things like “Isn’t this fun?” But thing was…it wasn’t. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me (and I won’t delve into my spiritual life because I KNOW very well what the true meaning of Christmas is). Was I tired? Had I finally grown up? Or maybe all the crap of Christmas blocked the joy for me.

I didn’t know.

Now, I know you’re thinking to yourself that this is supposed to be about writing. I’ll get there eventually, but first you have to hold on a bit more.

So this past weekend, I volunteered to take my 14 year old son and several of his friends down to New Orleans to see their high school play in the state football championship game. His historic high school has not been to the state championship in 51 years, so it was a big deal for the school. Almost everyone went down with cars painted purple and gold. Yellow Jackets were going to the Dome (Super Dome) and I was playing chaperone. And just like my attitude about Christmas, I was less than stoked. But I faked it. So we went to the game…and lost. And though I did enjoy cheering and wishing and praying the Jackets would pull off the upset, I wasn’t particularly emotional about the game. After very little sleep (did I mention five 14 year old boys?) we awoke and decided that before we headed home, we’d play a bit in the French Quarter. The day was cold but sunny, and after a terrific shrimp po’boy at Maspero’s and poking around the shops (and finding some cool historic NOLA t-shirts), we headed back to the ‘port (Shreveport). The five boys were in fine form, and -okay let me stop here and say this – my son has been particularly difficult lately. He’s been doing his whole independence thing which means he’s pretty much an ass most of the time. Those of you who have raised boys know this stage – they know everything, they disdain every suggestion you make and pretty much only need you when there are no more potato chips or they cut themselves shaving. So my former sweet-as-sugar, I-love-you-so-much-mommy boy has been not quite a horror show but close for the past five months. Okay, back to driving home. So we stopped and ate at Waffle House and after the boys got enough carbs and caffeine in their system, it was time to plug in the ox cord and sing.

Now this is totally crazy, but what happened over the next two hours changed my heart.

They started with regular teenage crap. You know, stuff that made me cringe. I had to decree no more music with the “F” word or one that called girls the word that rhymes with witch. And I didn’t care about freeing Lil Boosie. So then they moved on to Natasha Beddingfield. Yeah. They knew all the words. Then it was “Unwritten.” Honestly, I laughed till I cried. Then they went to John Denver’s “Country Road” and Celine Dion’s “The Heart Will Go On.” There was ecstatic moves to “All the Single Ladies” And as we exited off the interstate, finally home, they had saved the best song for last – “American Pie.” They knew ALL five minutes of the song.  It was several hours of sheer beauty. Not so great singing. But sheer wonderfulness.

And it was a good enough reason to have missed several hours of sleep, spent a couple hundo and failed at working on the novella I’d declared will be finished by Christmas.

Sometimes all we need is just one reason to smile. Just one reason to press on and to remember the good things in life…and in writing.

Writing is hard enough without worrying about the business of writing. If sitting down and writing a book that has great characterization, controlled pacing, brilliant plotting and hooks at the end of each chapter is hard, then releasing the book into the cold bitch world of publishing is the devil. You can control nothing and sometimes you feel as though you are washed up against rocks, your forehead tapping a rhythm against the wet sand. It’s hard and sometimes you wonder “Why am I doing this?” or you think “Why bother?”

But all you really need is one good reason. Maybe it’s cathartic and the only validation you need is the beauty of your own words. Or maybe it’s a contest final just when you wanted to trash the sonofabitch manuscript and call it quits. Or maybe it’s a reader letter that says just the right thing. Or a call from your agent telling you the editor wants to see the rest of the book. Or maybe its getting that first contract. Whatever it is, we writers exists for that one little reason to keep tapping away like a woodpecker on crack, creating, pouring our hearts into something worthwhile.

It’s a stretch. I know. Five kids singing “Drove my Chevy to the levee” made me feel good things were possible. Made me laugh. Made me look through the rain-spotted windshield and see the Christmas lights strung across houses in a different light. Perhaps it’s silly, but it was reason enough.

And, really, that all you need – just one reason to write your story today. Find that reason….and if you want me to send some silly 14 year old boys up to sing Cher (yeah, they did “Do You Believe in Love” too) I can arrange it for a fee.

Wishing you a happy holiday…and wishing you a bit of joy in the midst of the chaos!

 

Listen Up, Grasshopper

BalancedrocksSM

 

Psst. I’ve got a secret to share. It’s a big one. The key to happiness? The secret of life? Yeah, it’s balance.

 

I’m convinced of it. The times I haven’t been happy, there was some unevenness in my life…something that pulled me so strongly in one direction I neglected the others.

 

I like to think about life in four realms: physical, social, mental/emotional, and spiritual. I’m happiest when I have an equal footing in all four. (Imagine the game Twister here, with a foot and hand in each color.)

 

How does this translate into my writing? Conflicts are all about imbalance. The conflicts characters face arise when their lives become so unbalanced that they try to restore balance through action, or, in the case of the villain, often through unconventional or illegal means. The inciting incident that launches the entire story is all about upsetting the apple cart and sending your characters on a quest to reclaim their apples…or decide they’d rather have oranges.

 

As a reader, and as someone who strives for balance, I love to read about the hero and heroine being thrown off their life plan…better them than me, I say.

 

For instance, in Only Fear, a stalker enters the heroine’s life. In Deadly Bonds, everything’s going smoothly for my heroine, a director of a school, when a parent promises to make trouble for her because she won’t get with his program. In fact, my whole Mindhunters series was the result of an imbalance in one man’s life. Damian Manchester launched the SSAM foundation when his daughter was the victim of a serial killer. He needed to regain his sense of control and direct his grief toward something positive (and hopefully find closure by finding his daughter’s killer).

 

So, Grasshopper, now you know the key to a happy life, and a happy ending to a book: finding and maintaining balance.

 

What are some of the imbalances your characters face, or in the books you’re currently reading? What areas of your life are you working to balance, and how?

 

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.

(*This post originally ran on the Not Your Usual Suspects blog on June 12, 2012.)

Wordcount Mindgames: Tricks for Productivity

The Winter Writing Festival is upon us and you know what that means. Mega wordcounts! Pushing for our goals! Striving to stay motivated and not burn ourselves out in the first week so we last all the way to Week Seven! But just how do we do that? How do we stay motivated day after day? My trick? Little victories.

People have called me prolific, a fast writer, churning out new books faster than the Kardashians churn out magazine covers. With a stack of published works behind me, it’s hard to argue, “No, I’m slow!” but the truth is there are days when I plod along, dragging each word onto the page by stubbornness alone.

You want to know the secret? (Or maybe not THE secret, but MY secret? Or at least one of them…) The trick behind pumping up your word count, day after day, book after book, and avoiding burn out is tricking yourself into believing it’s easy. It’s all about the mind games, baby.

There are a thousand different ways you can do this, ways to make the Sisyphean task of writing a book seem manageable, and one of them is bound to work for you. So let’s talk mind games and efficiency tricks.

Have you ever set a timer? Done a writing sprint? Rewarded yourself with a handful of M&Ms or an episode of your favorite show? Joined an accountability group where your rewards depended on *everyone* achieving your goals and you refused to be the one who let everyone down?

I’ve used all of the above, but I’ve found I have to change it up every now and then because my lazy brain gets used to them and they stop working as well. I’ve also found different techniques work well depending on whether you’re trying to wedge your writing time in around a busy schedule or stave off burn-out as a full-time writer day after day. (My current challenge is the latter.)

Here’s my latest technique in one simple step: I just set an hourly goal for my writing day which I KNOW I can achieve, even on my worst day when the voices in my head are ignoring me completely. For me, that’s four hundred words in one hour.

It has to be a goal that seems almost laughably easy to accomplish, because then 1) I have no excuse for not doing it and 2) when that is ALL I accomplish, I still get a sense of satisfaction and that drives me to keep going, as opposed to setting my goal at my average rate and then being discouraged every time my performance is below average.

Sounds too simple to be effective, doesn’t it? But here’s the trick: even though I tell myself I can take a break until the top of the hour when I hit my hourly goal or stop when I reach my daily goal, I almost never do, because by then I’m in the groove. Telling myself I only need 400 words per hour is how I got almost 20,000 words in three days when I was pushing to finish my last book.

It’s all the little victories that keep driving you. Every four hundred words, your brain is releasing dopamine to celebrate your accomplishment and you never have the disappointment of not hitting your overly ambitious goal. Because 400 words? I can write that in no time! So what if I got a phone call and got distracted for half an hour – I can still get right back on track!

Obviously this technique won’t work for everyone, but for me it is my mind game of choice at the moment. Setting targets so far beneath what I know I can do, that there is NO EXCUSE not to do it. And then do more.

What tricks do you use to keep yourself motivated? Do you have any word count mind games to share with the class? ;)

For Love or Money

I’m about to be totally crass and talk about money, but before I do allow me to butter you up with some FREE STUFF, if I may.  My haunted Halloween romantic comedy The Ghost Exterminator: A Love Story is free, free, free for the next week.  Ghosts playing pranks on your fancy schmancy new inn?  Who ya gonna call?  The Ghost Exterminator, baby.  Free for KINDLE :: NOOK :: Direct from Samhain.  Enjoy!

And now to the serious stuff…

At my first ever writing conference, during my first ever pitch session, Big New York Editor asked me what my goals were.  I told her (with the undiluted confidence of ignorance) that I was going to make a living from my writing.  Quit the day job.  And she laughed.  Not unkindly, but with a certain degree of indulgence for the optimistic newby who had yet to learn some harsh realities about the writing business.  She said, “That’s the dream, isn’t it?”

Write Ferociously!

We’ve been having a lot of fun, and getting a lot of writing done, during Sunday afternoon writing sprints held in the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood Winter Writing Festival chat room.   For those of you who haven’t had a chance to stop by yet, the sprints typically occur over a two hour time period, and within each half hour block we write for 20 minutes, then chat for10.

During the 10 minute chat, we share what we each accomplished (or not) during the 20 minute segment, and we also chat about a lot of other things. Sometimes people momentarily step out to caffeinate, to move a load of laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, or care for kids, pets and spouses. Sometimes we talk about the weather, character arcs, villains vs. anti-heroes, great workshops, and upcoming agent or editor pitches. On Super Bowl Sunday, we determined a) that it was perfectly OK to cheer for the Patriots solely because their QB is hotter and b) that we cared a LOT more about the Puppy Bowl than the Super Bowl. We debated the artistic merits, and relative hotness levels, of Van Morrison, Prince and Adam Levine. And did I mention that Tom Brady is hot.

On Super Bowl Sunday, one of the participants mentioned that she’d recently received a coveted “revise and resubmit” request from an editor at a publishing house. Woo-hoo! After all the hooting and hollering quieted down, she revealed that she felt… really, really nervous about it.

Of course!! Completely understandable. Those of us in the chat room understood perfectly. Receiving an R & R request is a very important milestone in a writer’s career. It means the author is past receiving “good rejections”, that an agent or editor sees very specific and marketable promise in your work, and is thisclose to taking you on as a client.

Or not.

It all depends on how well you execute the revisions.

Ugh! Maddening! Success is so close you can taste it!!  You’re afraid to get your hopes up, because being so close, it would hurt SO BADLY to receive the other dreaded “R” – a rejection. There’s no getting around it – rejection really stings.

In this situation, there’s a natural tendency to shift into self-preservation mode, to play defense, to take fewer risks so we don’t ruin our chances.  But what if by playing it safe we extinguish the very spark that the agent or editor saw in our work in the first place?

My opinion? This is not the time to lay down a safe, boring bunt!  Swing for the fence!

Put yourself in the agent’s or editor’s shoes for a minute. Say you’re evaluating two R & R requests, both competently written. Would you rather:

  • read a safe manuscript that follows all the rules but bores you silly, or
  • have to rein in an author who took some chances, maybe went too far,  but whose manuscript crackles with life?

As a contest judge, which manuscript would you rather read? 

I’m not really one for affirmations, but the picture I posted at the beginning of this post was taken in my home office.  “Write Ferociously” reminds me to be brave. To embrace my inner honey badger  (video  NSFW).  To trust that if I write too far out of bounds, my CP or my editor will yank me back.    

But dare to dance right up to the edge. Be memorable. Swing for every fence. Be “pretty badass.”

Write ferociously.

Are there affirmations you use to help navigate the twists, turns, detours and speed bumps you encounter along the road to publication?  Exactly what DOES success taste like, anyway?  Be specific. ;-)

<—  FIRST LOOK!

It’s been a long time coming, but TASTE ME’s follow-up, CHASE ME, is releasing June 5, 2012 – and is now available for pre-order!

Amazon | B & N

…and if werewolf geologist Gabe Lupinsky was in the habit of strutting around his employer’s parking lot wearing no shirt and a leather jacket, I have no doubt that he’d choose a classic style like this one. ;-)

(Fanning self)

Top Five Lessons Learned From My Debut Release

My first book, Heiress Without A Cause, came out as a Nook exclusive at the end of January, and there was much rejoicing throughout the land. Or at least I rejoiced, and my friends all tolerated my rejoicing. The champagne flowed, the congratulatory calls/emails/tweets came in, and I even sold enough copies to be thrilled with it (it reached #69 in the Nook Store and is still in the top thirty there for Regency romance!).

Heiress is coming out on Amazon any second now (EDIT: it’s up now!! check it out here), since the Nook First promotional period is over, and I can’t wait. But on this anticipatory day between the end of my first month as a published author and the start of the rest of my life (cue dramatic music), I thought I would share what I learned and what I hope to change/replicate/avoid going forward.

Lesson 1: Promo Can Suck Your Brains Out If You Let It

Yes, promo can suck your brains out even if you write fun Regencies instead of dark paranormal zombie thrillers. All those guest blogs, Facebook contests, and Goodreads giveaways are like snarling, starving wolverines, and they will happily latch onto your throat, pull you to the ground, and gnaw on your bones. And yet you have to get through it, even if getting through it probably feels like being part of the Donner Party in January — you just have to hope you survive it, and hope your reputation survives whatever missteps you make.

But even though there are a lot of demands during your debut month, try to bat away the wolverines long enough to keep working on your next book. It helps (said with a crazed, maniacal laugh) if you have a deadline for the next project. Otherwise, you could easily keep promoting your first book forever and never write anything else. And that, my friends, makes for a very sad writer.

Lesson 2: The Best Promo Comes From Being Yourself

The best promo comes from being yourself — unless you’re Genghis Khan, I suppose. Although we all still know who he is  800 years later, so as a brand marketer, he was totally a genius.

That’s not my point. My point is that if you’re thinking of how to work yet another mention of your book into a comment thread on someone’s blog, or tweeting your book with every hashtag that has every existed in the history of twitter, you’re probably not having fun with it. And if you’re not having fun, your followers aren’t having fun. People sense when something’s forced and unnatural, or a strategy/gimmick. But if you write the way you want to write, in all media, and stop trying so hard to sell your *book*, you might just con people into thinking you’re a nice, interesting, funny person who must have written a nice, interesting, funny book. And then they buy it. And then you win. And you didn’t even have to conquer all of Central Asia to do it.

Lesson 3: Laugh At The Bad Reviews And Treasure The Good Ones

Note that I didn’t say “don’t read your reviews.” If you’re strong enough to never read a single review, you’re a stronger woman/man/alien (you must be an alien) than I am. But note that I also didn’t say “respond to your bad reviews” or “get your friends to form a posse and lynch the person who left you a bad review.” That’s the stuff of nightmares and will kill your online reputation faster than anything. I stay disengaged, and I don’t respond to reviews — but if I’m going to read them, I make myself laugh off the bad ones. And for me, at least, I can laugh off the bad ones because the good ones are so precious to me that it’s worth stumbling over a few rocks to find the diamonds.

Lesson 4: Do Everything You Can In Advance

And I don’t just mean on the promo side. I mean everywhere. Wash your sheets. Stock up on groceries. Spend time with your family. Give everything a good dusting. Because the week your book comes out, all you’re gonna want to do is refresh your sales rankings constantly, and you’re going to hate the person who wants to take you away from your laptop to make them a stupid sandwich or do their laundry.

On a more practical note, if you write some blog posts in advance, do up some FAQs, select your excerpts, and write up short/medium/long descriptions of your book, it’s all there waiting for you when someone needs it. And if someone offers you a last minute guest blog opportunity, you can say yes happily, knowing that you have a precious blog stockpile ready to send them. It’s like preparing for the apocalypse, except with words instead of canned goods.

Lesson 5: Learn To Let Things Go

Not everything will go well, and not everything will get done. I hate having a messy house, but I’ve let that go for now — which is fine, since I don’t have time to invite people over anyway. I’m not going to get workshop proposals out to every conference on the planet, but that’s okay too. If you can hit most of the important stuff most of the time (writing, promo, bathing, and seeing your family and friends just often enough that they don’t forget your face), everything else is secondary.

And really, it’s just as important to enjoy the ride as it is to, um, take the ride. Even though I felt ridiculously busy this month, I never said no to a celebratory dinner, or drinks at the bar the night my book came out, or anything else people wanted to do to celebrate. If you have people who want to share your success, share it with them. Success has a funny way of expanding to make everyone happy, if you don’t try to horde it like gold in a dragon cave. And the best part of my debut month wasn’t the sales numbers — it was treasuring those moments when my family and friends were there for me.

For those of you who have published, what did you learn from your debut? If you haven’t published yet, what are you most concerned/excited/scared/thrilled about when you think of your debut? I’ll give an ebook, either Nook or Kindle, to a lucky commenter – so fire away!

Sara Ramsey’s first Regency romance, HEIRESS WITHOUT A CAUSE, is out now on Nook and will be available at any moment on other ereaders and in print. Her second book, SCOTSMEN PREFER BLONDES, is coming at the end of March. For more dubious wisdom and bizarre tweets from what she’s dubbed the #sarapocalypse, follow her on Twitter at @Sara_Ramsey or sign up for her mailing list.

Seven Year Itch

Oftentimes my scheduled blog date says something like “TBD” and that’s mostly because it’s hard for me to come up with something suitable for this blog. Oh, sure, on other blogs I can blog about kittens or the unseasonable weather we’ve been enduring in Louisiana, but the Ruby blog is dedicated to that journey we all take together no matter where we might be on the path,

The Wired Writer

They say that the first step in overcoming a problem is to admit you have a problem in the first place. So…here goes.

My name is Tammy, and I am digitally overloaded.

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